May 18, 2011


“A well-trained habit can overcome many inherited natures. If only I could express how much this means to anyone who wants well trained children! If only every mother understood how habit, in her knowing hand, is as useful as a tool as the wheel to the potter, or the knife to the carver. With this instrument-habit-she can conceive of what she wants her child to be like, and then she can help him to become that!...That forming good habits is what an education is made of.” Charlotte Mason Vol. 1

As I am not a person who likes to take control of things, or who likes to get others to do my bidding I wasn’t as excited as I could have been by this quote. In my old life before homeschooling, my unsaid motto was “be and let be”. That was before I was responsible for another’s education.

“But, knowing all this, and knowing that it’s possible to form habits in a child that make him feel and do specific things, is this such a good thing? Doesn’t this take away the child’s free will and turn him into a machine? Whether habits are planned and created consciously, or allowed to be haphazardly filled in by chance, they are habits all the same. Habits rule 99% of everything we do. Parent’s aren’t turning children into creatures of habit, they already are creatures of habit, it’s part of our human nature.” Vol. 1

I have wizened these past few years and the quote above encouraged me to start instilling them in our family life. I now had a responsibility to prayerfully consider what habits to instill in my three boys.

Some habits we have been able to make a habit and some are still in formation. We have aimed at these three: The habit of obedience, the habit of attention, and the habit of perfect execution.

The Habit of Obedience:
This habit has been a personal struggle for me, just as it is for TJ in the picture above to learn to eat his vegetables. Charlotte sums up the underlying reason for my struggle in this quote,

“There is no need to berate the child, or threaten him, or use any manner of violence, because the parent is invested with authority which the child intuitively recognizes. It is enough to say, “Do this,’ in a quiet, authoritative tone, and expect it to be done. The mother often loses her hold over her children because they detect in the tone of her voice that she does not expect them to obey her behests; she does not think enough of her position; has not sufficient confidence in her own authority.” Vol. 1 p162

I have always been a follower or a loaner. It has been a new role for me to lead my children especially in the subjects of education where I feel out of place. Learning to teach and to lead has taken me to my knees and to the Lord many a time for His help and wisdom for the current moment. I have learned that I am not alone in the classroom or when leading, Jesus is with me. He has encouraged me many times, given me wisdom, and the right perspective in a given situation which has made all the difference. Slowly, and by degrees I have trusted Jesus more and in the end found my role as teacher and leader changing as He is more involved. I had to admit I couldn’t do it all by myself.

I ask myself these questions often to keep me on track. (found in Laying Down the Rails by Sonya Shaffer)

  • Do I make obedience top priority, even more important than academics?
  • Am I treating willfulness the same as disobedience?
  • Do I realize I am on assignment from God to teach my child to obey?
  • Is my child moving towards a desire to obey?
  • Do I expect my child to obey?
  • Am I trying to use a quiet firm voice when telling my child to obey?
  • Do I insist on prompt, cheerful, and lasting obedience every time?
  • Am I learning to give a command that I do not intend to see carried out to the full?
  • Am I gracious enough to yield occasionally in matters that are not crucial if my child appeals respectfully?
  • Am I seeking to teach my child obedience by the time he is one year old?
The Habit of Attention:

In developing this habit I have had great success and great failure. Success when I have adhered to what Charlotte has to say and failure almost to the degree I veered off into my own erroneous ideas.

*Keep lessons varied-no problem but some days a lot of work. Once I got the resources lined up, the variety seemed endless. How many different ways can there be to practice math facts? Loads of ways we found. The same became true with the other lessons, it was simply a matter of doing some looking around.

*Keep lessons to 20 minutes. –fine except when I get too interested in the topic and want to cram it down their throats with my enthusiasm. I have learned an important lesson here. My mom gave me a great picture which illustrates for me the power and necessity of short lessons. She said children can take in quite a bit of information if it is given in the right way. They are like narrow necked bottles with wide bottoms. Can you picture those kind? If you pour in a narrow stream slowly, over time you will fill the bottle. But, if you pour the information in too fast with too much volume it spills out over the sides and runs onto the floor. The bottle remains empty. I have kept this picture in mind as I am preparing and giving lessons.

*Alternate lessons so the brain has a chance to rest. –easy peasy.

*Never let your children dawdle over a lesson, put it aside for a dissimilar lesson, then return to it with freshened wits. – in our case I hard a hard time trusting Charlotte on this one. I have reaped bad rewards with one of my boys who was becoming quite a dawdler before I risked it, and tried Charlotte’s way. Now we are on the road to less dwaddling, her way is working. I could not believe the bright eyed attention I got when I gave him frequent breaks in the routine and then returned with a fresh mind to go at it again.

The Habit of Perfect Execution:

“Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as attainable.” Lord Chesterfield

My husband holds to this in all he does. He never asks himself if he can do this or that, rather he asks, “is this a worthy endeavor” then he works hard and sees how close he can get to perfection. His way of looking at life has been rubbing off on me too. When I read about this habit I was thrilled to put it into place in out homeschool.

• I encourage my boys to do all their work carefully, slowly and to their best ability. Whether it is making a mini book for our lap books or to write their letters.

• I never let them off just because they are a child, but rather encourage them to do their best.

• I am careful that I don’t assign things which are too hard for them, but I have made mistakes here. When that happens I humbly admit it and reassign the work so it is more within their range.

• As much as possible I have the boys check their own work and see where their mistakes lie.

• We are all ready to give each other a good hive five for the good work that s done.

• Our aim is to accomplish something perfect in each lesson.

• Our lessons are short.

I would surely be overwhelmed by all the habits that could be taught if not for Charlotte's kind and true words here.

“Once again, we are reminded of the clock who was overwhelmed anticipating how many ‘ticks’ were to be ticked in his future. But only the next tick needs to be thought about, and he will always be given one second long enough to tick that tick. In the same way, the mother only needs to concern herself with the one habit she’s working on. She will also need to keep an alert guard over the habits already corrected, but that’s easy and no trouble at all. If the thought of all those habits that still lay ahead are too much to think about, she should make a list of just a few habits to work on, maybe twenty. A child who grows up with twenty good habits is already starting life on the right foot. The mother who knows herself well enough to doubt whether she can persist in habit training can take courage in knowing that even the act of training habits can become a habit!” Vol. 1

Thank You Charlotte.


  1. Your post reminded me of what my dentist said when talking with me about my toddlers and flossing. He said to let them do it and not to worry so much about the mechanics/coordination. All I had to do right now was instill the habit of it. So true! I have often explained to my oldest child that I am teaching her some of these things now so that she doesn't have to try to learn them later in life when it is so much harder to do so.

  2. "I am careful that I don’t assign things which are too hard for them, but I have made mistakes here. When that happens I humbly admit it and reassign the work so it is more within their range"

    This is a wise thing for all of us to remember. I really liked reading your post and the images were the perfect complement to the words. :)

    Popped over from the CM Carnival.

  3. Thanks for sharing this encouraging post. Sounds you and I have the same things to work on in our families.

  4. So good to be reminded of these good habits with some simple ways to enact them!

  5. Thanks Barb for the comment that we can change the assignment when we realize we have made a mistake. It is so. While we were working our wat through Ralph Masiello's book Drawing Insects I attempted to veer off the book for a lesson and show them how to draw another insect not found in the book. I overheard my oldsest, the most aware of my tendency to overwhelm, say when I had stepped out of the room, "Oh no! she's not using the book. We will all be confused!" Kids are honet but they are also gracious when we reform. I have been learning more how to put ideas in bite sized form and ready to swallow mostly because they forgive quickly and allow you space to grow and change.

  6. this is such a cool summary of your trials and triumphs in habit formation! thank you so much for sharing this with the CM Blog Carnival!

    and I too am consoled greatly by CM's words, "The mother who knows herself well enough to doubt whether she can persist in habit training can take courage in knowing that even the act of training habits can become a habit!”

  7. Amy you are welcome! It is great to have a place to share stuff that I/we are learning. I had planned to reread vol 1 and 6 of Home Education this summer by myself to refresh remind and add a few more CM methods to our daily education, but the carnival is much more fun than doing it on my own.

  8. Your picture of the narrow-necked bottle is such a good reminder! I have stifled my children's natural love for some themes and subjects with my over-zealous enthusiasm and I need to be more sensitive and "not get in the way".